Ten more miles, it is South Dakota. Somehow, the roads there turn blue, When no one walks down them. One more night of walking, and I could have become A horse, a blue horse, dancing Down a road, alone.
I have got this far. It is almost noon. But never mind time: That is all over. It is still Minnesota. Among a few dead cornstalks, the starving shadow Of a crow leaps to his death. At least, it is green here, Although between my body and the elder trees A savage hornet strains at the wire screen. He can’t get in yet.
It is so still now, I hear the horse Clear his nostrils. He has crept out of the green places behind me. Patient and affectionate, he reads over my shoulder These words I have written. He has lived a long time, and he loves to pretend No one can see him. Last night I paused at the edge of darkness, And slept with green dew, alone. I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow To the shadow of a horse. ~James Wright “Sitting in a small screenhouse on a summer morning”
I have a sense of someone reading over my shoulder as I write. It keeps me honest to feel that breath on my hair, that green smell reminding me who I am.
I should not try to be anyone else.
When my words don’t say exactly what I hope, I feel forgiveness from the shadow beside me.
It’s all softness. It’s all okay even when it’s not.
These are the essentials of what Jesus asks. Basic, simple, gentle, emphatic, encouraging. So why don’t I follow through? Why do I hand myself over to anxiety and fear? Why do I fail at what should be so simple? He knows I need reminders. He knows I am weak. So He says it again: don’t forget this. Remember me. I will remember. I will remember You.
1 Matthew 6:26. See also Luke 12:24, “Consider the ravens.” 2 Matthew 6:28; Luke 12:27. 3 “Drink from it, all of you” (Matthew 26:27). Norris uses the King James translation here. 4 This stanza is a series of Jesus’s commands from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7, King James; also Luke 11:9). 5 Matthew 7:13-14; also Luke 13:23-24. 6 Matthew 6:25, 31; Luke 12:22, 29. 7 Matthew 7:1; Mark 4:24; Luke 6:37-38. 8 Matthew 7:6. 9 Matthew 8:13. 10 “Do not be afraid” – a frequent command by Jesus; for example, Matthew 10:31; 14:27; 17:7; 28:10. 11 The healing of Jairus’s daughter: “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41; also Luke 8:54). 12 The healing the widow’s only son; Luke 7:14. 13 The healing of the man with the withered hand: Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11. 14 Jesus’s healing the paralyzed man: Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26. 15 Jesus’s command to the ocean: Mark 5:39; also Matthew 8:26; Luke 8:24. 16 Jesus to his disciples in Gethsemane: “Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me” (Matthew 26:46; Mark 14:42). 17Jesus’s two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. … You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; also Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). 18 Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:4.
In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world? just to hear his sister promise, An unfinished wing of heaven, just to hear his brother say, A house inside a house, but most of all to hear his mother answer, One more song, then you go to sleep. How could anyone in that bed guess the question finds its beginning in the answer long growing inside the one who asked, that restless boy, the night’s darling? Later, a man lying awake, he might ask it again, just to hear the silence charge him, This night arching over your sleepless wondering, this night, the near ground every reaching-out-to overreaches, just to remind himself out of what little earth and duration, out of what immense good-bye, each must make a safe place of his heart, before so strange and wild a guest as God approaches. ~Li-Young Lee “Nativity”
“What’s wrong with the world?” asked The Times of famous authors. “Dear Sir, I am. “ Yours, G.K. Chesterton
I’m not ashamed that I still ask the hard questions, just as I did when I was a child, lying in bed, fearful in the dark. Some call it a lack of faith: if I truly believed, I would trust completely, so asking such questions would be “out of the question.”
Yet God throughout scripture encourages questions, listens to lament, isn’t intimidated by uncertainty and weakness. He waits patiently for His people to make their hearts a safe place for Him to dwell – a place of wings and songs and awe and worship – even when resounding with questions.
My heart is a womb where our strange and wild God seeks to reside in this world. “Why me?” I ask, pondering yet another hard question in the dark. “Why not you?” comes His response: a question for which He awaits my answer.
Coffee in one hand leaning in to share, listen: How I talk to God.
“Momma, you’re special.” Three-year-old touches my cheek. How God talks to me.
While driving I make lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try. How I talk to God.
Above the highway hawk: high, alone, free, focused. How God talks to me.
Rash, impetuous chatter, followed by silence: How I talk to God.
First, second, third, fourth chance to hear, then another: How God talks to me.
Fetal position under flannel sheets, weeping How I talk to God.
Moonlight on pillow tending to my open wounds How God talks to me.
Pulling from my heap of words, the ones that mean yes: How I talk to God.
Infinite connects with finite, without words: How God talks to me. ~Kelly Belmonte “How I Talk to God”
I don’t always realize I am constantly in a dialogue with God, but He knows and He hears. He talks back to me but I’m not always hearing Him.
Whenever I’m occupied with the daily-ness of life and am thinking “if only” this or that could be different, I’m telling God I know better. He lets me know in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that He made the world, He knows what comes next and I don’t.
If I get impatient or irritable rather than grateful and awed, I’m talking like a petulant child wanting my way. When God gifts me with a moment of color in the sky or a golden light across the landscape, I need to pause, waiting in my personal wilderness, and remain wordless.
The Infinite is trying to talk to the finite. I am only asked to listen.
You heard my voice, I came out of the woods by choice Shelter also gave their shade But in the dark I have no name So leave that click in my head And I will remember the words that you said Left a clouded mind and a heavy heart But I am sure we could see a new start So when your hopes on fire But you know your desire Don’t hold a glass over the flame Don’t let your heart grow cold I will call you by name I will share your road But hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer And hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer I wrestled long with my youth We tried so hard to live in the truth But do not tell me all is fine When I lose my head, I lose my spine So leave that click in my head And I won’t remember the words that you said You brought me out from the cold Now, how I long, how I long to grow old So when your hope’s on fire But you know your desire Don’t hold a glass over the flame Don’t let your heart grow cold I will call you by name I will share your road But hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer And hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under And I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under The skies I’m under Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Benjamin Walter David Lovett / Edward James Milton Dwane / Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford / Winston Aubrey Aladar Marshall
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4
To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness- especially in the wilderness – you shall love him. ~Frederick Buechner from A Room Called Remember:Uncollected Pieces
I usually think of wilderness as a distant peak far removed from anything or anyone. From my farmhouse window on a clear day, I can see a number of distant peaks if the cloud cover moves away to reveal them.
Or perhaps the wilderness is a desolate plain that extends for miles without relief in sight.
Wilderness is also found in an isolated corner of my human heart. I keep it far removed from anything and anyone. During my televisit computer work, I witness this wilderness in others, many times every day.
A diagnosis of “wilderness of the heart” doesn’t require a psychiatric manual: there is despair, discouragement, disappointment, lack of gratitude, lack of hope. One possible treatment to tame that wilderness is a covenantal obedience to God and others. It reaches so deep no corner is left untouched.
There come times in one’s life, and this past year especially, when loving God as commanded seems impossible. We are too broken, too frightened, too ill and too wary to trust God with faith and devotion. We are treading life simply to stay afloat.
During this second Lenten pandemic, God’s love becomes respite and rescue from the wilderness of my own making. He is the sweet cure for a bitter and broken heart.
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
I laughed in the morning’s eyes. I triumphed and I saddened with all weather, Heaven and I wept together, and its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine. Against the red throb of its sunset heart, I laid my own to beat And share commingling heat.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come. Halts by me that Footfall. Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest, I am He whom thou seekest. Thou dravest Love from thee who dravest Me. ~Francis Thompson from “The Hound of Heaven”
My days are filled with anxious and sad patients, one after another after another. They sit in front of their screen and I in front of mine, so close yet so far from each another – a wilderness of unexpressed emotions.
They struggle to hold back the flood from brimming eyes. Each moment, each breath, each heart beat overwhelmed by questions: How to take yet another painful breath of this sad life? must there be another breath? Must things go on like this in fear of what the next moment will bring?
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the knowledge that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse. There is no recognition of a moment just passed that can never be retrieved and relived. There is only fear of the next and the next so that now and now and now is lost forever.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than any viral pandemic. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish there was a vaccine to protect us all from our unnamed fears in the wilderness.
I want to say to them and myself: Stop this moment in time. Stop and stop and stop. Stop expecting this feeling must be “fixed.” Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop resenting the gift of each breath. Just stop. Instead, simply be in the now and now and now.
I want to say: this moment, foggy or fine, is yours alone, this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. Shout for joy in it. Celebrate it. Be thankful for tears that can flow over grateful lips and stop holding them back.
Stop me before I write, out of my own anxiety over you, yet another prescription you don’t really need.
Just be– and be blessed– in the now and now and now.
There’s a certain Slant of light On winter afternoons — That oppresses, like the Heft of cathedral tunes. When it comes, the Landscape listens — Shadows hold their breath — When it goes, ’tis like the Distance On the look of Death. ~Emily Dickinson
How valuable it is in these short days, threading through empty maple branches, the lacy-needled sugar pines.
Its glint off sheets of ice tells the story of Death’s brightness, her bitter cold.
We can make do with so little, just the hint of warmth, the slanted light... ~Molly Fisk, “Winter Sun” from The More Difficult Beauty
Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth’s superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind — ~Emily Dickinson
I like the slants of light; I’m a collector. That’s a good one, I say… ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
During our northwest winters, there is usually so little sunlight on gray cloudy days that I routinely turn on the two light bulbs in the big hay barn any time I need to fetch hay bales for the horses. This is so I avoid falling into the holes that inevitably develop in the hay stack between bales. Winter murky lighting tends to hide the dark shadows of the leg-swallowing pits among the bales, something that is particularly hazardous when carrying a 60 pound hay bale.
Yesterday when I went to grab hay bales for the horses at sunset, before I flipped the light switch, I could see light already blazing in the big barn. The last of the day’s sun rays were at a precise winter slant, streaming through the barn slat openings, ricocheting off the roof timbers onto the bales, casting an almost fiery glow onto the hay. The barn was ignited and ablaze without fire and smoke — the last things one would even want in a hay barn.
I scrambled among the bales without worry.
In my life outside the barn I’ve been falling into more than my share of dark holes lately. Even when I know where they lie and how deep they are, some days I will manage to step right in anyway. Each time it knocks the breath out of me, makes me cry out, makes me want to quit trying to lift the heavy loads. It leaves me fearful to venture where the footing is uncertain.
Then, on the darkest of days, light comes from the most unexpected of places, blazing a trail to help me see where to step, what to avoid, how to navigate the hazards to avoid collapsing on my face. I’m redirected, inspired anew, granted grace, gratefully calmed and comforted amid my fears. Even though the light fades, and the darkness descends again, it is only until tomorrow. Then it reignites again.
Last night we ended up on the couch trying to remember all of the friends who had died so far,
and this morning I wrote them down in alphabetical order on the flip side of a shopping list you had left on the kitchen table.
So many of them had been swept away as if by a hand from the sky, it was good to recall them, I was thinking under the cold lights of a supermarket as I guided a cart with a wobbly wheel up and down the long strident aisles.
I was on the lookout for blueberries, English muffins, linguini, heavy cream, light bulbs, apples, Canadian bacon, and whatever else was on the list, which I managed to keep grocery side up,
until I had passed through the electric doors, where I stopped to realize, as I turned the list over, that I had forgotten Terry O’Shea as well as the bananas and the bread.
It was pouring by then, spilling, as they say in Ireland, people splashing across the lot to their cars. And that is when I set out, walking slowly and precisely, a soaking-wet man bearing bags of groceries, walking as if in a procession honoring the dead.
I felt I owed this to Terry, who was such a strong painter, for almost forgetting him and to all the others who had formed a circle around him on the screen in my head.
I was walking more slowly now in the presence of the compassion the dead were extending to a comrade,
plus I was in no hurry to return to the kitchen, where I would have to tell you all about Terry and the bananas and the bread. ~Billy Collins “Downpour”
Since the count began, the list of those who have died expands every day in media headlines and increases by the hour on websites dedicated to COVID tracking – –
–only there are no names. We don’t list the names of those who have been lost.
Maybe if there were names of over one million people around the globe that the virus has hastened to take from us, somehow it would matter more. Maybe if we witnessed the suffering that accompanied each case, we would understand this is more than “just like the flu.”
I’ve seen the flu kill the young and healthy, so hearing that comparison doesn’t comfort me or cause me to wave this off as something that will pass as soon as the election results are tallied. Even some health care workers are remarkably nonchalant and dismissive of the virus. I simply don’t understand: after decades of pandemic planning in my work as a medical director/health officer, this is the situation we all dreaded could happen, but knew we needed to be ready for.
I don’t want to see anyone else added to a list that is far longer than it ever should have been and growing by the day. Yet the tallies rise because our very own behavior, modeled from the very top of government, is responsible.
Will anyone someday build a monument listing the names of those who died in this pandemic? No, because there is nothing noble about dying of a virus and the list would be far too long. There is nothing noble about failing to protect others in the name of protecting my own individual liberty and civil rights.
So I wear the mask and so should you. It just might keep me or you or someone we love from being just another number on the list.
Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray– For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife. Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;– Moveless there sit through all the burning day, And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay. ~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul
I suspect I’m not the only U.S. citizen who slept fitfully last night, anxious about the election and how our nation’s peoples will accept and move on with life once official results are reported.
There can be no response but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for a long-needed hatching of healing peace for our diverse beliefs and opinions.
Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt and distrust burns into our flesh like thorns on fire.
We have become a seething-angry and moaning-sore nation — today we will be further divided between those who win and those who lose. The moral high ground will go to the graceful loser who concedes defeat in a spirit of unity without stoking the fires of discontent. A gloating winner would bloat us all beyond recognition.
May our prayers for peace rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil, once again to soar on the wings of eagles.
Peace, come quickly. Be moved within us; no longer immobile. Cool our angry words. Take us to higher ground. Plow deep our hearts.